A grateful group of volunteers on Friday donated to Operation We Care what will be the last “Holiday Gifts for Soldiers” collection started by Anna Foultz and Star Charities.
Many who had known Foultz and worked with Star Charities over the years were on hand to help fill two vans full of nonperishable goods collected for U.S. soldiers serving overseas.
Donations were collected during October through bins placed around the community, and then stored in the Ocean Pines home of Barb Peletier before being turned over to Operation We Care.
“Thank you, everybody, for helping. We had an awesome collection. This was the best we’ve ever done,” Peletier said of the record number of items gathered.
Peletier said it was “all of us banding together to work together” that put the donation drive over the top. Groups including the Kiwanis, AARP, Sons of Italy, and the Ocean Pines Boat Club banded together to collect nonperishable food, toiletries, books and other items, along with $1,400 in cash donations.
“This is one of the biggest [number of groups] pulled together we’ve ever had,” Larry Walton said. “I’m always trying to get the clubs to work to together and maybe this is a steppingstone to that, I hope.”
Walton, a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Army, underscored the importance of the collection. Through Operation We Care, hundreds of care packages will ship to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who are serving far away from home.
“I tell you, it’s lonely. I’ve been there, done that,” Walton said. “We were lucky if we got a package from our family … but we never had this kind of support group when I was in the military. So, this kind of support group, to me, should never die, because the military serves our country and keeps this country free.”
Walton went on to say the holiday season is an especially tough time for military men and women.
“This time of year, there’s more suicides in the military … because it’s a lonely time. Some of them don’t have family [or] some of them have family that don’t care, so this is awesome that we pulled this together,” he said.
Jeff Merritt said Operation We Care, based locally in Salisbury, has sent care packages for a dozen years. He became involved after seeing tragedy firsthand while working in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
This year, he said care packages would go to “12 countries and two ships.” He estimated the nonprofit would send 800-1,000 packages.
“That’s direct impact … letting them know that somebody besides their family cares about what’s going on,” Merritt said. “They’re all going to miss Thanksgiving. They’re all going to miss Christmas. Holidays are a particularly lonely time [for soldiers].
“There’s always somebody not getting something from home in any unit, I don’t care if it’s got five people or 300, and the larger the number the more people are not getting stuff from home. That’s really who we want to reach out to.”
Merritt said that would include a Delaware National Guard Unit with 350 members currently serving in Kuwait, which will receive 350 care packages. He added there’s special local touch in each box they send, to offer soldiers a small taste of home.
“Every one of our boxes has a six-ounce bag of Fisher’s Popcorn in it,” he said. “Fisher’s is a great supporter of what we do.”
All involved said Foultz, who started the collection and the Star Charities nonprofit years ago with her husband, Carl, would have been proud of this year’s haul. A longtime Ocean Pines resident, she passed away in September, just before the 2019 drive officially began.
“It’s because of Anna that it has been successful, for what Anna has meant to us individually and expanded through all of the groups that have participated,” Susan Walter said. “Thank you, Anna, it was her doing.”
“She’s watching [over] us,” Peletier added.
While they can no longer use the Star Charities name, based on the family’s wishes, everyone involved vowed the “Holiday Gifts for Soldiers” collection would continue.
“There probably will be something next year,” Peletier said. “Sue and I are working on it and we are going to pull all the clubs together.”
“This is the first time I’ve seen this many groups together and, I think if we can do this as a group, look what we can do,” Walton added.